For Colored Girls…And Everyone Else at The Public

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The company of for colored girls… Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

The Review: Public’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf

By Ross

The title is just all so encompassing and meaningful. It hits home the wide-reaching ideas of pride and pain, joy and frustration, all brought to the forefront by a group of amazingly talented women all in the service of an iconic play. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow is Enuf, written from a deep reservoir of truth and power by Ntozake Shange (Mother Courage and Her Children), has returned to the stage after arriving 43 years ago. In a historic 1976 Public Theater production, the creation flourished, transferring to Broadway to run, dance, shout, agitate, and enliven for 742 performances at the Booth Theater. To much acclaim and adoration, this ‘choreopoem’ (a mixture of poetic monologues, dance, and song) was and is a clap happy classic; a landmark piece in African American literature and black feminism, that infuses its poetic language and point of view into the American theatre and the blood of the country with effervescent energy and edge. It’s filled, dancing with a joy on the round wide theatrical brim with pure authenticity and radical emotionality. It feels hard to imagine and difficult to take in as a piece of theatrical history, as it feels so organic and current of our time and situation. As playwright Suzan-Lori Parks summarizes in the program: “How much we all need this play right now, to be reminded of who we are, of who we can be.”

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Alexandria Wailes (center) and the company of for colored girls… Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

As directed with distinction and delight by Leah C. Gardiner (PH’s If Pretty Hurts…) with charged “dancing on beer cans” choreography by the dynamic Camille A. Brown (Broadway’s Choir Boy), the crystal ballroom-in-the-round, designed with purposeful focus by Myung Hee Cho (MTC’s In the Body of the World), pulsates with the power of storytelling from different vantage points and directions. The Ladies deliver, starting back in 1955, “not a good year for black girls” and drives forward  so that all the colorful spirits can move and graduate, dancing from the heart, doing their nasty tricks on you, loving in so many ways it’s hard at times to take in. They want to sing out for salvation and community, and they need to dance just to stay alive. Until the big explosion, courtesy of lighting designer Jiyoun Change (Broadway’s Slave Play) and sound designer Megumi Katayama (Long Wharf’s Pride and Prejudice),  throws them all down into the pain and betrayal by men who are known all too well. It’s gigantic in its pain, anger, and hurt, with the Lady in Blue, beautifully portrayed by Sasha Allen (Broadway’s Hair) wondering why these ladies can’t get no satisfaction or justice. It’s a solid question, and one that resonates out into our current stratosphere.

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Sasha Allen (center) and the company of for colored girls … Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

The women are all magnificent: the Lady in Brown, played by Celia Chevalier (“Orange Is the New Black“), the Lady in Orange, portrayed by Danaya Esperanza (NYTW’s Mary Jane), the Lady in Red, embodied by Jayme Lawson (‘Farewell Amor‘), the Lady in Yellow, inhabited by Adrienne C. Moore (“Orange Is the New Black“), the Lady in Green, physicalized by Okwui Okpokwasili (Julie Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and the Lady in Purple, enlightened by Alexandria Wailes (Broadway/DeafWest’s Spring Awakening), costumed appropriately and esthetically in richness by Toni-Leslie James (Broadway’s Come From Away). Their individuality electrifies and expands consciousness. They let their glittering smooth silked selves heat their stories with strong armed deliberation, surviving the numerous blocks of cruelty in the dangerous world they, and we, live and breath.

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Okwui Okpokwasili (foreground) in for colored girls… Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

Heaving in and out, leaving the bitterness in some other’s cup, For Colored Girls… lives brightly and shines. The original music by Martha Redbone (Public’s Bone Hill: The Concert), assisted by the music direction of Deah Love Harriott, the minister of music at Bethany Baptist Church of Brooklyn, and music coordination by Kristy Norter (Broadway’s A Bronx Tale), fills out all the colors found in God and the Goodness of their stories and bodily tales.  This is “not a love poem“, nor a requiem for the dead, basking in the sorrow on the curb in dance and heartfelt terror, but a piece of living breathing gloriousness registering power and pain.

The woman sitting next to me in the theatre was feeling every volt of energy created in that space, overflowing verbally and physically as if For Colored Girls… had taken over her whole being.  She couldn’t help herself. She spoke back, out loud, with love and excitement. Vocalizing “someone ran off with my stuff!” as if it was hers. She was preaching to her fellow audience members with such passion that I couldn’t be annoyed (as I normally might be in the theatre), but electrified by her engagement. So let your soul be filled like her’s. Give the stories the power to hit with an elegance and a force that will rock your passive self. Celebrate together with this seven ladies, and be overwhelmed by their glory.

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The company of for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, written by Ntozake Shange and directed by Leah C. Gardiner, with choreography by Camille A. Brown, running at The Public Theater. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.
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